Back in the off season, somewhere back in late November or during the month of December, Brian France announced that there will be a change to The Chase format for 2014.
For several years now, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France has talked about wanting more game seven moments to decide the Sprint Cup champion. Obviously, he was not satisfied with the current 26-race regular season and 10-race Chase for the Championship format that's been around since 2004.
France talked of wanting unforgettable last-lap passes for the Cup. He yearned for three or four-wide racing among Cup hopefuls for 400 miles at Homestead-Miami Speedway every November. He wanted drivers going not just to the ragged edge, but over it, for God's sake. He wanted victories to become worth whatever teams are willing to do to get them, unfathomable risk-taking be damned, witness the Ryan Newman bonzai move last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway!
France wanted, I suspect, something like Bobby Thompson's three-run shot heard 'round the world that won the 1950 pennant for the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Or Bill Mazeroski's walk-off homer that gave Pittsburg the 1960 World Series over New York. Notwithstanding the fact that it was merely a Game 6 moment, he'd love to have Joe Carter's three-run walk-off dinger that gave Toronto the 1993 World Series over Philadelphia.
How about a three-wide photo finish at Homestead?
A self-proclaimed sports junkie, maybe France wants every race to mirror Lorenzo Charles's last-second dunk of an air-ball from Dereck Whittenburg that won the 1983 NCAA title for NC State over Houston. Or Keith Smart's last-second baseline jumper that gave Indiana the 1987 title over Syracuse. And don't get us started on Christian Laettner's last-second shot that beat Kentucky for the 1992 NCAA East Regional title.
Long covetous of an NFL team, maybe France would settle for moments like Joe Montana-to-John Taylor that took San Francisco past Cincinnati in the waning seconds of Super Bowl XXII. I suspect he'd kill for a championship finish like Adam Vinatieri's last-play field goal that won Super Bowl XXXVI for New England over St. Louis.
Now if the truth be told, what commissioner, or team owner wouldn't want a steady stream of Game Seven moments? For NASCAR, the two best championship moments in the past 20 years were the late Alan Kulwicki beating Bill Elliott by just 10 points in the 1992 season-finale at Atlanta, and Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards tying in points at Homestead (Stewart won it on a tiebreaker) in 2011.
The Kulwicki-Elliott classic battle didn't need a Chase playoff to be unforgettable, it was neck-and-neck to the finish. The Stewart-Edwards movie was under the former Chase format – the one France changed in favor of the format that is currently in use this year. And quite honestly, the Stewart-Edwards 2011 Chase was the only year that there was high drama to the end of the year and race!
Can anyone, this year, honestly say that new NASCAR Chase format did not do what it was designed to do- create high drama? Yes, we can all lament that the way a NASCAR champion is chosen has changed, there is no argument about that fact. The old NASCAR points system rewarded consistency over a 36 race season. That has it's good points, but it also produced some really boring late season races. By late September, in many seasons, the Winston/Nextel/Sprint Cup Series had become a runaway and the soon-to-be-crowned champion was a foregone conclusion. For that reason many NASCAR fans would switch over to the NFL, and abandon NASCAR altogether!
With the invention of the Chase, and it's derivations that have occurred over the last ten years, the powers to be in NASCAR have hit upon a formula that has created more drama for this series of racing. Additionally, the new format has cranked up the intensity, the required performance necessary to hang with the big dogs, and has magnified the already intense pressure to perform that these race teams must function under. Those reasons alone are enough see the high anxiety that now exists in the final 10 races. There are no more mulligans! All of these facts were very evident as I walked through the garage area last weekend at PIR. You could the tension with a knife!
The main aim of The Chase format was, first and foremost, to elevate the TV ratings, since that is where the big money is located! That same drama has created some very interesting water cooler conversation, as well!
So I ask, does this new Chase formula bring the desired changes that Brian France, and all the powers to be in the headquarters building in Daytona Beach, envisioned when designing this new format?
My answer is,YES it does!
What is your answer to that question? Leave it in the comments below.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!
Photo credit: Leon Hammac - OnPitRow.com